Restaurant review: Fast-casual Cocoa Beach cafe offers cheerful stop for healthy food
Let’s hear it for restaurants like the Skinny Mermaid that have revitalized older properties by creating attractive spaces to attract aficionados of newer food trends, while saving room for old favorites.
It is located in a little plaza, once home of the Brigantine Gallery, to which time was not necessarily kind before the energy returned the last couple of years with the addition of the Skinny Mermaid and its neighbor, Tina-K Slice from Heaven. The Skinny Mermaid has done a yeoman’s share of the sprucing up by transforming part of the parking lot at the front of the restaurant into an attractive patio, with greenery and vintage-style tables and chairs.
Inside are two dining areas, one mainly given over to ordering (Skinny Mermaid is fast-casual), the other, fairly large and probably next in line for a little modernizing, but immaculate, with a coffee bar at the back. Both are bright and cheery, with a bit of a nautical vibe.
The menu is fairly extensive, with healthy, but not necessarily health-food, offerings: poke bowls with chunks of sushi-grade yellowfin tuna (ahi); Buddha Bowls, in which shrimp, steak, chicken, tofu or hummus replace the tuna; Island Bowls, in which meat or seafood is served on a bed of steamed jasmine rice and black beans topped with pineapple mango salsa; “Samiches,” including cheesesteaks, gyros, wraps and pitas; and salads. The most expensive thing in the place, ahi poke, costs $19.99.
Our choices were Nutz in Paradise poke bowl ($13.99) and a lavash roll ($8.99) with steak.
The former has become a local darling, loaded as it is with jasmine rice topped by good ahi, pistachios and macadamia nuts, covered in a house-made chipotle honey sauce that is absolutely grand, to which crunchy sesame sticks, a bit of shaved pickled ginger and greenery have been added. It is a lovely combination of flavors and textures: a little soft, a little crunchy, a little sweet-savory-umami; there’s a reason people love it.
It also is refreshingly original to see a sandwich wrapped in Joseph’s Bakery lavash, which lends an ever-so-slightly smoky flavor to the thing. This one was wrapped around fresh salad mix (a lot of lettuce with cucumber, onion, tomato and an olive or two), some avocado and slices of medium-cooked sirloin steak, all very light but filing.
It would have been grand with a little less lettuce, but it was decent lettuce, a salad in the hand. Bravo to Skinny Mermaid for serving regular old-fashioned potato chips too. Does this mean hard, cut-up-your-mouth kettle chips are a thing of the past? Hopefully.
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Coconut gelato ($7) was dessert, and a sizeable and modish one it was, with two scoops of dairy-free dessert crowned with drizzled chocolate sauce, fruit and boba pearls. The definition of true gelato remains to be seen in this country because federal law has yet to specify that dessert. However, Italian law requires at least 3.25 percent butterfat (less than ice cream) but more whole milk than cream, so if you’re looking for conventional gelato, this is not your place.
This was a coconutty cross between sherbet and ice milk, refreshing but by no means gelato-like, sweetened, but not too much, by the fruit. And big. This desert is made for sharing, we thought.
Speaking of pearls, the Skinny Mermaid makes a delightful boba beverage with black, green or white tea, in 12 flavors, each of which costs an inexpensive $4.99. A dining companion chose a berry variety with lychee pods and loved it, just as I did the Blue Sky black cherry soda. Bravo to all who sell better sodas.
Anyway, the Skinny Mermaid is another restaurant that should bring joy to the hearts of beachside residents, a cheerful stop for healthy food. See you there.
The Skinny Mermaid
Three and a half stars
Address: 66 S. Orlando Ave., Cocoa Beach
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday
Other: Fresh-baked bagels, cinnamon rolls and biscuits on weekends; coffee and tea; vegetarian/vegan selections; ahi is wild-caught; T-shirts and other souvenirs are sold.
About our restaurant reviews
Restaurants are rated on a five-star system by FLORIDA TODAY’s reviewer. The reviews are the opinion of the reviewer and take into account quality of the restaurant’s food, ambiance and service. Ratings reflect the quality of what a diner can reasonably expect to find. To receive a rating of less than three stars, a restaurant must be tried twice and prove unimpressive on each visit. Each reviewer visit is unannounced and paid for by FLORIDA TODAY.
Five stars: Excellent. A rare establishment to which you’d be proud to take the most discerning diner.
Four stars: Very good. Worth going out of your way for. Food, atmosphere and service are routinely top notch.
Three stars: Good. A reasonably good place with food and service that satisfy.
Two stars: Fair. While there’s nothing special about this establishment, it will do in a pinch.
One star: Not recommended. Don’t bother.